‘Lead By Example’ – Unbeaten Isi Fitikefu Hopes To Inspire His Family And Homeland In ONE
Isi Fitikefu wants to be a role model for others now that he’s secured a place on the global stage of martial arts.
Born in New Zealand with a proud Tongan heritage, Fitikefu is the only current ONE athlete representing his Polynesian homeland, and he hopes to motivate those watching back home when he debuts at ONE on Prime Video 4: Abbasov vs. Lee.
Ahead of his welterweight MMA bout against veteran Ruslan Emilbek Uulu on Friday, November 18, find out all about the unbeaten 30-year-old and the road he’s taken to compete at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Raised In A Famous Fighting Neighborhood
Fitikefu was born and raised in a Tongan family within the Mangere area of South Auckland, New Zealand.
It was a tough neighborhood that produced several combat sports icons, so self-preservation was crucial. However, the young Kiwi was too reserved to get involved in martial arts from a young age.
“Growing up in New Zealand, I looked up to the guys like David Tua and Mark Hunt. I didn’t know them but they grew up in the same neighborhood, so I always looked up to guys like them.
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to do martial arts, but I was too shy. I didn’t join boxing gyms or karate gyms.”
From Rugby To Martial Arts
Fitikefu got his first real athletic start in rugby. Like many of his Polynesian peers, he was a big, strong youth, and this led to success in the high-impact sport.
Then at 14, he moved to Sydney, Australia to pursue his dreams with the National Rugby League’s Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, although those hopes eventually faded when he was cut from their senior squad years later.
Despite missing out on a potentially lucrative rugby career, Fitikefu had gained the necessary confidence to try combat sports – and he set off on his new journey of discovery:
“I started with jiu-jitsu. Then I got into boxing, kickboxing, and then ventured into mixed martial arts.”
A love for MMA and combat sports pushed “Doxz” through the door of his first gym.
And while he didn’t originally expect to become a professional martial artist, his days as a competitive rugby player allowed him to think big. And once he had a taste of success, he couldn’t turn back.
“Fighting wasn’t always a goal, but I enjoy competing. And then the more fights I started to win, the more I believed in myself that I could make a career out of it. Probably when I was about 24 to 25.”
Doing It For His Family
While Fitikefu now owns a 7-0 professional MMA record, it hasn’t been an easy road.
He initially stepped into the pro ranks in 2015, winning his first two matchups. However, the Kiwi slugger then decided to step away from competition and focus on his day job so he could move himself, his partner, and his kids out of their in-laws’ house and into their own place.
After finally achieving that goal, the talented athlete resumed his career in 2017, and he believes overcoming this kind of hardship – and still pushing forward – can help show his children a positive path in life:
“I’m a dad, and I’m a partner to my girlfriend, Dipz. I have three children. I try to spend a lot of time with them when I’m not training.
“It’s not easy but it’s good. My kids are old enough to see what’s going on. They see the hard work that their parents put in, they see a lot of things, and I want to lead by example.”
It’s clear that Fitikefu’s biggest motivation to continue fighting stems from his kids.
Above all, he wants them to see and understand that by putting in hard work, anything is possible.
The 30-year-old says:
“I just want to be a good example for them. Like, myself, I came from a hard upbringing. I come from nothing. But it doesn’t matter where you come from.
“As long as you work hard and put your head down, you can do whatever you want. I’m just trying to teach that to my kids.”
Leading The Way For Tonga
Fitikefu now has a global platform to showcase the value of hard work. Beyond paving the way for his family to succeed, he can also reach more of his Tongan compatriots.
Plus, the laidback welterweight isn’t just here to talk a good game – he’s here to inspire with his actions.
“I want my legacy to be the best fighter, especially for my country, Tonga. We’re known for rugby league but not really known for too much in combat sports.
“We’re a small country but proud. If I can be one of the best fighters in my generation, I’ll be happy.”
“I want to lead by example. Tonga has the potential for a lot of good of athletes, but not too many role models. If they can see one person, one Tongan kid can do that, then someone will follow.”
To achieve this, victory in ONE is crucial, and he’ll never turn down a challenge.
His debut promotional appearance will come this Friday in U.S. primetime, and Fitikefu plans to lay down a solid foundation by earning a dominant victory at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
“To me, it didn’t matter who the opponent was. Give me the fight, let me put my hands on him, let me hit him, and let the rest do itself.
“The more you watch me, the more you’re going to see. A lot of big punches, a lot of good grappling. Expect a good show.
“My mindset is to put this guy out. In the first, second, or third [round], it doesn’t matter. But he’s not going to go all three rounds.”